The Cellular and Molecular Immunoregulation (CMI) research team of the International Clinical Research Centre (ICRC) has been awarded a prestigious international HORIZON EUROPE grant. The project will focus on research into sepsis and septic shock, which affect up to 50 million people worldwide each year and account for almost 20% of global deaths. In addition, most surviving patients develop further complications that affect their quality of life. The total budget of the BEATsep project is €6.9 million.

This success is underlined by the fact that CMI-ICRC initiated the project, subsequently assembled a consortium of partners, and will act as coordinator of the project. This is only the third project in the Research and Innovation category focusing on population health to be coordinated from the Czech Republic. “The project is the result of our efforts over several years within the consortium, giving the chance to better understand and fundamentally change the recovery of paediatric and adult patients who have suffered septic shock. We would not have been able to develop this project without the intensive administrative support available to us at the ICRC,” added Dr. Jan Frič, head of the CMI.

The BEATsep project will use an interdisciplinary approach that will bring together research and clinical teams working on specific aspects of the development, treatment and prevention of the long-term consequences of sepsis and its impact on patients’ quality of life. Comprehensive clinical and research data generated during the project will be integrated using artificial intelligence algorithms into an easy-to-use predictive tool capable of identifying patients at highest risk of complications. Furthermore, the consortium plans to design a tertiary prevention strategy to help prevent the development of such outcomes.

To this end, a consortium has been formed to address this issue over the next five years. The consortium brings together renowned experts in immuno-metabolism, immunophenotyping, diagnostic sign research and several clinical teams caring for adult and paediatric sepsis patients. “It has taken nearly two years of intensive preparation and networking to assemble the consortium, which is already working on several joint projects.” says Dr. Marcela Hortová-Kohoutková from the CMI research group, who was instrumental in the project’s preparation.

In total, the BEATsep project coordinated by ICRC-FNUSA will involve 10 partners from 6 European countries including 1) CIML – Centre d’immunologie de Marseille-Luminy – (Aix-Marseille Université/CNRS/Inserm); 2) The Institute of Innate Immunity, at the Medical Faculty of the University of Bonn, Germany; 3) Faculty of Medicine at the Comenius University in Slovakia; 4) the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Traumatology, Vienna, Austria; 5) BioVariance GmbH, Germany; 6) Masaryk University, Brno, Czechia; 7) National Institute of Health, Prague, Czechia; 8) University of Galway and 9) APHM – Marseille Hospitals. BEATsep will bring together renowned experts in immunometabolism, epigenetics, immunophenotyping, diagnostic research and several clinical teams caring for paediatric and adult sepsis patients. “The BEATsep project is an example of an innovative and successful combination of translational and clinical research, the know-how of our own and international scientists, and collaboration between hospitals, universities and other scientific institutions of renown. I am proud that the coordinating team is from the ICRC, a joint department of St. Anne’s University Hospital and the Faculty of Medicine of Masaryk University in Brno,” said Prof. Irena Rektorova, M.D., Head of the ICRC.

Consortium map

For more information and updates @BEATsepsis (Twitter, X), www.beatsepsis.eu, LinkedIN

The International Clinical Research Centre (ICRC) is a joint facility of St. Anne’s University Hospital in Brno and the Faculty of Medicine of Masaryk University.

A team of 23 scientists from Brno has come significantly closer to answering the question of how to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common cause of dementia and leads to gradual dependence on the daily help of another person. Experts from the Faculties of Science and Medicine at Masaryk University, the International Clinical Research Center and the Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute believe that the results of the research will help develop other highly effective therapeutic agents for this 21st century threat to civilisation.

Photo: Microscopic image of a brain organoid

Photo: Microscopic image of a brain organoid

“A key role in the development of Alzheimer’s dementia is played by apolipoprotein E (ApoE), which is also found in brain tissue. We have discovered the molecular basis of the undesirable accumulation of this apolipoprotein and at the same time shown a way to suppress this accumulation of ApoE with a potential drug that is already in advanced clinical testing with expected approval in 2025,” as a molecular biologist Martin Marek summarised the main significance of the research. Martin Marek works in the Loschmidt laboratories of the RECETOX Centre at the Faculty of Science of Masaryk University and at the International Clinical Research Centre (ICRC), which is a joint workplace of St. Anne’s University Hospital Brno and the Faculty of Medicine of Masaryk University.

ApoE plays an important role in the functioning of the brain and its anti-inflammatory effect is also known. However, three variants are widespread in the human population: ApoE2, ApoE3 and ApoE4. The presence of the ApoE4 variant has previously been shown to be a major risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, inheritance of the ApoE4 variant significantly increases the risk of Alzheimer’s dementia. Patients with two copies of the ApoE4 gene have greater memory impairment, reduced ability to perform normal daily activities and more severe atrophy of brain tissue. Scientists from all over the world have been trying to unravel the mystery of ApoE4 for several decades, but it is only now that Brno scientists have taken a peek under the hood of this molecular mystery.

“The exciting thing about this research was that the toxic variant of ApoE4 differs from its non-toxic counterparts by only one mutation, which has huge implications for the behaviour of the protein and its relationship to the development of Alzheimer’s dementia,” explained Marek.

An important part of the study was to investigate how to prevent the unwanted deposition of ApoE4 in brain tissue and thus restore its important cellular functions. In layman’s terms – how to prevent or slow the development of the disease and preserve thinking and memory. In follow-up biochemical experiments, the researchers have shown that there is a substance called homotaurine, an amino acid derivative found in certain species of seaweed, which suppresses unwanted accumulation and restores the original functions in the ApoE4 protein, and could thus have a “therapeutic” effect in clinical practice.

For the experiments, the researchers used brain organoids, which are “mini-brains” grown in a test tube from the cells of Alzheimer’s patients. “We used brain organoids in this study to test the effect of homotaurine on the development of Alzheimer’s dementia. Our results confirm that the drug has a positive effect on organoids with the ApoE4 variant, and it appears to affect not only important signalling pathways but also cholesterol metabolism. In future studies, we want to focus on detailed mapping of the changes that homotaurine causes in the human brain,” outlined the future therapeutic effect of homotaurine and the future direction of research by cell biologist Dáša Bohačiaková from the Institute of Histology and Embryology at the MU Faculty of Medicine.

The Brno scientists managed to map the structural changes in the ApoE protein at the atomic level in detail by combining experimental and computational experiments. Due to these changes, the ApoE4 protein variant is not stable, has a high tendency to accumulate undesirably in brain tissue and thus loses its primary role in lipid and cholesterol transport.

“Dynamic changes in the structures of ApoE3 and ApoE4 proteins and their interactions with a potential drug (homotaurine) were studied using a unique hydrogen-deuterium exchange method coupled to mass spectrometry. The results revealed a structural rearrangement in ApoE4 causing aggregation, which was not observed in ApoE3. On the contrary, the interaction with the drug stabilized the structure of ApoE4 and thus suppressed its negative properties,” added biochemist Lenka Hernychová from the RECAMO centre of the Masaryk Cancer Institute.

The Brno scientists published the results of their research in the prestigious journal Molecular Neurodegeneration. The research was supported by the Ministry of Education and Science within the ENOCH and INBIO projects. The research was also financially supported by the European Union within the Horizon Europe programme through TEAMING and ADDIT-CE grants.

“The study was unique because it was able to complement classical molecular and cell biology methods with data obtained by mass spectrometry techniques. In this way, changes in protein and lipid levels can be monitored very sensitively and accurately and insights into the mechanism of action of potential drugs can be gained. At the same time, mass spectrometry can be used to characterise often heterogeneous cellular model systems,” said Zdeněk Spáčil, an analytical chemist from the RECETOX Centre at the Faculty of Science of Masaryk University.

Author: text and photo Masaryk University

Contact for media:

  • Martin Marek, RECETOX, Faculty of Science MU and the ICRC – a joint workplace of FNUSA and MUNI MED – marek@recetox.muni.cz
  • Šárka Nevolová, LL, Faculty of Science MU and ICRC, +420 723 886 646, nevolova@fnusa.cz
  • Jiří Erlebach, Head of PR and Marketing Department, Spokesperson of FNUSA, +420 543 182 006. erlebach@fnusa.cz.
  • Lenka Hernychová, Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute – hernychova@mou.cz
  • Dáša Bohačiaková, the Institute of Histology and Embryology of MUNI MED – bohaciakova@med.muni.cz
  • Zdeněk Spáčil, RECETOX, Faculty of Science MU – spacil@recetox.muni.cz

On Friday 9 June 2023, the Director of St. Anne’s University Hospital Brno (FNUSA), Ing. Vlastimil Vajdák, and the Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy, Masaryk University (FaF MU), prof. PharmDr. Mgr. David Vetchý, Ph.D., signed an agreement on building and operating a joint research facility. It will be established through the cooperation of the FaF MU and the International Clinical Research Centre (ICRC). The best scientific capacities of both institutions will thus be able to newly use the common space for cutting-edge research.

Photo: signing the agreement; left to right: prof. PharmDr. Mgr. David Vetchý, Ph.D., prof. MUDr. Irena Rektorová, Ph.D. a Ing. Vlastimil Vajdák

Photo: signing the agreement; left to right: prof. PharmDr. Mgr. David Vetchý, Ph.D., prof. MUDr. Irena Rektorová, Ph.D. a Ing. Vlastimil Vajdák

“By signing the agreement with FNUSA, we are building on our previous successful cooperation with the ICRC. The Faculty of Pharmacy prides itself on the practical form of teaching already during studies, including the use of scientific research opportunities. Involving young employees in complex projects implemented at a joint workplace can increase their professional level and enable them to establish new contacts with experienced scientists,” explained prof. Vetchý.

The agreement envisages the establishment and operation of a joint research facility focused on preclinical and clinical research, i.e. research in laboratory conditions as well as in interaction with patients. The purpose is mainly the development and testing of new drugs and medical devices, i.e. a wide range of devices used in healthcare, e.g. from surgical sutures, to catheters and sophisticated diagnostic devices. It is to confirm their effectiveness and efficacy that clinical trials are used, which also confirms their safety.

As Director Vajdák added: “The added value of FNUSA is the functional background for clinical trials. We believe that the partnership with FaF MU will bring new solutions for better diagnosis and treatment. At the same time, the joint facility will offer the possibility of contracted research to third parties.”

For the ICRC head, prof. Irena Rektova, M.D., Ph.D., the contract is also a new opportunity for joint grant applications. “The linking of top scientists from both departments promises to increase the prestige of our institutions and the opportunity to reach out to other talents from the Czech Republic and abroad. The Faculty of Science is the third MU faculty with which we are deepening our cooperation and thus effectively linking the academic, research and application spheres,” concludes Prof. Rektorová.

Photo: deepening the collaboration between representatives of the FaF MU a FNUSA

Photo: deepening the collaboration between representatives of the FaF MU a FNUSA

Author: Marta Vrlová, M.A., MPH, Senior PR Specialist ICRC, marta.vrlova@fnusa.cz.

Media contacts:

  • Jiří Erlebach, Head of PR and Marketing Department, Spokesperson of FNUSA, +420 543 182 006. jiri.erlebach@fnusa.cz.
  • Mgr et. Mgr Hana Brožová, Office for External Relations and Marketing, FaF MU, +420 770 139 562, brozovah@pharm.muni.cz.

 

ICRC is a joint workplace of FNUSA and the Faculty of Medicine, Masaryk University.

Representatives of Brno hospitals and IQVIA gathered on Wednesday, 19th April 2023, to celebrate 10 years of collaboration in innovative clinical studies. Members of the Moravian Prime Site, a unique space for collaboration in the design and implementation of clinical studies, highlighted the benefits of joint activities for research, patients, and the South Moravian Region. They have also encouraged the public to participate in clinical studies, e.g. through the new registry of volunteers.

Photo: Representatives of FNUSA and IQVIA

Photo: Representatives of FNUSA and IQVIA

Five Moravian hospital and outpatient facilities constitute the Moravian Prime Site: St. Anne’s University Hospital in Brno (FNUSA), the Military Hospital Brno, the University Hospital Brno (FN Brno), the Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute (MOÚ), and Medical Plus outpatient clinic in Uherské Hradiště.

“IQVIA is committed to the advancement of innovative research and development in the healthcare sector, and Moravian Prime Site is a key component of our strategy. By ensuring world class research, patients can have greater access to new therapies and transformed health outcomes in the future” says Dean Summerfield, Senior Vice President, Real World and Commercial Solutions EMEA, IQVIA.

The creation of the Prime Site followed the St Anne’s University Hospital in Brno’s (FNUSA) long-term activities in the field of clinical studies. One of the decisive factors was also the establishment of the International Clinical Research Center (ICRC) in 2011 and the related establishment of a centralized clinical studies department. The ICRC effectively connects research, academic, and applied spheres to bring modern practices from the microscope to physicians’ offices.

As the Director of FNUSA, Ing. Vlastimil Vajdák, stated: “The field of clinical and research studies is an opportunity to bring future treatment closer to patients. In addition to companies such as IQVIA, which bring studies to FNUSA, patients are our key partners, and we value their trust. I am glad that we have managed to connect with the expert teams of other Brno hospitals as well.” Collaboration between hospitals also enables the implementation of extensive studies that an individual subject would not be able to cover.

The Director of FN Brno, Ivo Rovný, MD, MBA, adds: “Clinical studies have become an integral part of patient care at individual FN Brno clinics and cover a wide range of diseases, especially in the fields of oncology and haematology, paediatric oncology, gynaecology, cardiology, neurology, and psychiatry. In some of these areas, FN Brno provides irreplaceable care within Brno and the South Moravian Region.” Thanks to its own Transfusion and Tissue Department, FN Brno can also fully participate in the implementation of studies that include medicinal products for modern therapies and can offer collaboration to other partners.

Moravian Prime Site is fulfilling other goals as well, such as supporting patient involvement in clinical trials. FNUSA has developed a registry for volunteers who want to participate in clinical trials and research. This gives the public the opportunity to contribute to research of  treatments and diagnostic methods for future generations. Other partner institutions offer similar opportunities.

“The Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute has had a more than twenty-year tradition of clinical trials, which are fully integrated into the institute’s operations and care for our patients and remain one of our development priorities. We greatly value the long-term and deepening cooperation with major partners such as IQVIA,” says MOÚ Director, Prof. Marek Svoboda, MD, PhD. “Not only do we expand the possibilities of oncological treatment for our patients, but the field of clinical research has an international reach for MOÚ. This year, we have gained the prestigious status of the European OECI Comprehensive Cancer Center. We are also a centre of the EUCRAN network for rare solid tumours,” he adds.

Photo: Moravian Prime Site 10th Anniversary

Photo: Moravian Prime Site 10th Anniversary

Moravian Prime Site members recognized the benefits of ten years of cooperation during the meeting, streamlining the entire process of managing clinical trials and, most importantly, enrolling over 2,100 patients in conducted clinical trials. The goal is to accelerate diagnostic processes, predict disease development, and evaluate the effectiveness of new treatment methods.

 

Author: Marta Vrlová, M.A., MPH, Senior PR Specialist ICRC, marta.vrlova@fnusa.cz.

Media contacts:

  • Jiří Erlebach, Head of PR and Marketing Dpt, FNUSA Spokesperson, +420 543 182 006. jiri.erlebach@fnusa.cz.
  • Sorin Petcu, General Manager Czech Republic and Slovakia, IQVIA, +420 607 020 929, sorin.petcu@iqvia.com
  • Václav Janištin, Head of Communications Center in FN Brno, +420 532 232 193, Janistin.Vaclav@fnbrno.cz
  • Veronika Plachá, FN Brno Spokesperson, +420 532 231 387

 

About partners:

 

International Clinical Research Center (ICRC) FNUSA and LF MU

We are a modern center of scientific excellence based in Brno, focused on preclinical and clinical research, primarily in the fields of cardiology, neurology, and oncology. We are looking for new diagnostic and therapeutic methods, technologies, and medicines. By implementing our findings into practice, we improve patient care and their quality of life. In July 2022, we became a joint workplace of the Faculty Hospital of St. Anne in Brno (FNUSA) and the Faculty of Medicine of Masaryk University (LF MU) in Brno. We are developing relationships and cooperation with other key players, both internationally and within our region. Our activities are included in the action plan for the implementation of the #brno2050 strategy. We are helping to shape the future of the #brnoregion.

The Clinical Trials Center (CCS) of ICRC has been the primary contact point for clinical evaluation within FNUSA since 2009. It provides all communication between the faculty hospital and the sponsors of clinical trials or the entities authorized by the sponsor. We are also the contact point for patients participating in specific studies and those interested in being included in the volunteer database. FNUSA currently has around 160 studies running, and CCS negotiates around 40-50 new studies per year. These are studies in almost all clinics, in the fields of cardiology, neurology, and internal medicine.

You can find more information about us at fnusa-icrc.org and fnusa.cz/klinicke-studie

 

Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute – Department of Clinical Trials

Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute in Brno is a top specialized cancer center with supra-regional coverage, a unique healthcare facility in the Czech Republic, and as of 2023, a European OECI Comprehensive Cancer Center. It houses all necessary medical fields to provide comprehensive cancer care, including prevention, epidemiology, diagnosis, individual modalities of anti-cancer therapy, rehabilitation, and public education. The institute focuses on scientific research, including basic research.

The tradition of conducting clinical studies at the Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute dates back to the 1970s, when the institute was a significant research partner in the development of new cytostatic. In 2000, as the first of its kind in the Czech Republic, the Department of Clinical Studies (OKS) was established, providing complete organizational, administrative, and professional support for clinical studies at MOÚ. It prepares all contractual and academic clinical evaluations, and after their initiation, a team of experienced study coordinators, study nurses, and data managers coordinates and conducts study visits according to the protocol, participates in patient recruitment, and manages data and communication with the sponsor. The department also provides training for clinical study coordinators across the Czech Republic.

Currently, MOÚ initiates approximately 25 new phase I-III clinical trials for the treatment of solid tumours each year, involving around 300 patients annually. Since 2012, MOÚ has also had a clinical trial unit for phase I studies, and in 2022, it obtained the SÚKL certificate for conducting first-in-human clinical trials.

More information about us can be found at mou.cz and mou.cz/klinicke-studie/t1520, email studie@mou.cz.

 

University Hospital Brno – Unit of the Deputy Director for Science and Research

 FN Brno is the second largest healthcare facility in the Czech Republic and a hospital of European importance, as evidenced, among other things, by its participation in six European Reference Networks (ERN). Since 2012, FN Brno has been registered in the Register of Research Organisations and since 2015 has been involved in the activities of the research infrastructure supporting academic clinical trials CZECRIN. It also cooperates with CEITEC and RECETOX in the field of applied and, to a lesser extent, basic research.

Science and research at the Brno University Hospital is related to its core business, i.e. healthcare, and thanks to this it takes advantage of the unique availability of patient data and clinical procedures that are essential for clinical research projects, including clinical trials. The Clinical Trials Department (OKS), which is part of the Unit of the Deputy Director for Science and Research, provides administrative and coordination support for the implementation of clinical trials at individual clinics of the Brno University Hospital. It participates in the preparation of contracts and, for ongoing clinical trials, the team of study coordinators of the OKS is involved in all phases of their implementation. More than 100 new applications for clinical trials, including academic trials, are processed annually at FN Brno. These are now also increasingly becoming part of grant and other research projects. Approximately 70 new clinical trials are initiated annually at FN Brno.

More information about us can be found at: www.fnbrno.cz and https://www.fnbrno.cz/utvar-namestka-pro-vedu-a-vyzkum/t4557

 

About IQVIA

IQVIA (NYSE:IQV) is a leading global provider of advanced analytics, technology solutions, and clinical research services to the life sciences industry. IQVIA creates intelligent connections across all aspects of healthcare through its analytics, transformative technology, big data resources and extensive domain expertise. IQVIA Connected Intelligence™ delivers powerful insights with speed and agility — enabling customers to accelerate the clinical development and commercialization of innovative medical treatments that improve healthcare outcomes for patients. With approximately 86,000 employees, IQVIA conducts operations in more than 100 countries.

IQVIA is a global leader in protecting individual patient privacy. The company uses a wide variety of privacy-enhancing technologies and safeguards to protect individual privacy while generating and analyzing information on a scale that helps healthcare stakeholders identify disease patterns and correlate with the precise treatment path and therapy needed for better outcomes. IQVIA’s insights and execution capabilities help biotech, medical device and pharmaceutical companies, medical researchers, government agencies, payers and other healthcare stakeholders tap into a deeper understanding of diseases, human behaviors and scientific advances, in an effort to advance their path toward cures.

To learn more, visit iqvia.com.

Schoolchildren in the Czech Republic have the opportunity to take part in the global experiential learning programme Heroes FAST, which aims to teach children to recognise the signs of stroke and to be able to call for help immediately. The project has been successfully implemented in 37 countries around the world.

Together we can save the world – one grandparent at a time.

Stroke or stroke or ictus is the second leading cause of death, the third leading cause of disability and one of the main reasons why children lose their grandparents. “The sad reality is that many stroke patients cannot be treated because they arrive at the hospital too late. People can survive and go on living without consequences if they receive prompt, quality and effective care. This is why it is important to spread awareness of the most common symptoms of this disease and to teach children that they need to call for help as soon as possible,” explains neurologist Hana Paloušková from Karviná Mining Hospital, who is one of the expert guarantors of the project.

According to a study by the World Stroke Organisation (WSO), every 30 minutes a stroke patient who could be saved dies or has permanent consequences. The study showed that up to 80% of stroke patients did not recognise their symptoms as stroke symptoms. These people did not think their condition was so serious that they needed to act quickly. The only way to know that someone is having a stroke is to be able to recognise the most common symptoms and, if they appear suddenly, to call an ambulance immediately.

The symptoms are summarised in the acronym FAST, which is easy to remember and stands for F for face, A for arm, S for speech, and T for time, which tells us not to wait and call an ambulance immediately, the patient is concerned about time.

FAST heroes

“The content of the FAST Heroes educational program is based on animated characters. Its central figure, a boy we have given the Czech name Časomil (Timmy the Time), becomes a FAST hero after he learns how to defeat an evil blood clot and saves the lives of the great heroes, his grandparents. The other heroes of the FAST campaign are animated characters who also remind children of the most common symptoms of stroke: Tvářil Veselý (Franc the Face), Ručoun Silný (Armando the Arms), Mluvílika Zpěvavá (Sophia the Singer), and Táňa the Teacher, who guides the children through the lessons,” says project coordinator Renata Hejnová from the St. Anne’s University Hospital in Brno, whose role is to help schools implement the campaign in the classroom.

The fun five-week engaging and interactive educational programme is primarily aimed at children aged 5-9. It teaches children empathy and love, as well as providing them with practical, life-saving skills. The educational program can be implemented in the classroom or in a daycare setting. Children are equipped with tools to help them accomplish their mission, which is to educate grandparents. Educational materials include short animated films, classroom activities, and take-home materials that help children deliver the message literally to their homes.

The educational programme is open to the child, the whole class, the school or the teacher by logging on to the website, which is available in Czech at www.fastheroes.com.

FAST heroes

One of the first representatives of the medical community to join the project is Svatopluk Ostrý, the head of the neurology department at the České Budějovice Hospital. I tried it with my children, who really enjoyed it. Even my colleagues’ children really like the programme. I am glad to be part of such an attractive project. I think the graphic design is a strong point of the project and the schools will like it.”

The first school that has joined the project and has already tried the educational programme in the classroom is the primary school on Tuháčkova Street in Brno. The school has previously been involved in the HOBIT educational programme, which is the older brother of the Heroes FAST project and also teaches pupils to recognise the signs of stroke and heart attack, and is aimed at second-grade pupils. “Based on our good experience with the HOBIT programme, we were happy to join a similar project aimed at our youngest pupils,” explains the school’s head teacher Jana Hanáková.

The Heroes of FAST campaign was developed by the Department of Educational and Social Policy of the University of Macedonia in Greece, together with the ANGELS Initiative supporting the improvement of care for stroke patients. The Heroes of FAST campaign is sponsored by the World Stroke Organization (WSO).

In the Czech Republic, the project is implemented by the Health Management Institute in collaboration with the Stroke team of the International Centre for Clinical Research, a joint facility of St. Anne’s University Hospital in Brno and Masaryk University Faculty of Medicine, the Hospital in České Budějovice, a.s. and Karviná Mining Hospital, a.s. with the support of the Cerebrovascular Section of the Czech Neurological Society of the Czech Medical Society of Jan Evangelista Purkyně.

“We hope that other hospitals and organisations will join the campaign and participate in the coordination of the whole mission,” says Veronika Svobodová on behalf of the Health Management Institute. “Creating a network of enthusiastic collaborating doctors, nurses and other professionals, as well as medical students or medical educators, is one of the building blocks for the successful implementation of the project and the spread of the Heroes of FAST campaign,” Svobodová adds.

We recommend following the website: www.fastheroes.com

 

International Clinical Research Center (ICRC) saw a successful start of the year 2023 welcoming Dr. Adam Williamson aboard. A renowned neuroscientist, who just received a prestigious ERC Consolidator grant, opens a new Neuromodulation Technology research team in the ICRC. He will investigate methods of activating the central and peripheral nervous system to define promising treatment options for diseases such as bowel inflammation, epilepsy, and neurodegenerative disorders.

As Dr. Williamson explains: “I focus on non-invasive deep brain stimulation, primarily in epilepsy. We utilize electrodes placed on the skin which emanate electric fields. These electric fields combine in space, at deep brain regions, far below the skull and activate neurons to create desired brain reactions, for example the suppression of pathological epileptic activity in patients with epilepsy or the enhancement of memory retrieval in healthy participants during cognitive tasks.”


Adam Williamson (Photo by the ICRC)

A Canadian, who studied theoretical Electrical Engineering in Texas, received his PhD at the University of Ilmenau, Germany. He has worked in Sweden at the prestigious Karolinska Institutet and other universities. His last posting before coming to Brno was with Inserm in France. Starting as an engineer, he gradually became a neuroscientist with the ability to apply new technologies to clinical research.

His research has been widely supported by the European Research Council (ERC) grants under the EU’s Horizon Europe programme. He is a recipient of a total of four ERC Grants (ERC Starting Grant in 2016, ERC Proof-of-Concept in 2020, ERC Proof-of-Concept in 2022 and ERC Consolidator in 2023). The last two ERC grants are now being transferred to the ICRC for implementation, with the latter entitled “Epilepsy Treatment Using Neuromodulation by Non-Invasive Temporal Interference Stimulation” (EMUNITI).  Among the considerable competition, he ranked alongside 321 researchers, who have won 2022 ERC Consolidator Grants, dividing the total €657 million. The grant promises a five-year long support of the research. Dr. Williamson is now creating his new team entitled “Neuromodulation Technology” for which he has started recruiting PhD students, postdocs, and technicians.

“I am delighted that we have been able to attract such an eminent foreign scientist to the ICRC. Having an ERC grant holder is both a privilege and commitment for us – to provide his team with a supportive environment. The prestige for our institution is comparable to Michelin star restaurants, with top level gastronomic experience and best chefs being equal to cutting-edge research and top scientists”, comments prof. Irena Rektorová, the Head of ICRC, on the recent successful partnership. Dr. Williamson follows: “I am very impressed with the staff and support at ICRC every day. Prof. Rektorová has created an atmosphere which is extremely effective and well-organized for top-level clinical research. I suspect to see many more ERC holders coming to Brno in the future.”

Shortly after his arrival, the new scientist has also been welcomed by the Mayor of the City of Brno, Mrs. Markéta Vaňková, at the yearly Meet the Mayor event for new foreign talents from local institutions and companies. He will conduct his research in collaboration with the research group of Assoc. professor Eric Glowacki at CEITEC VUT, researchers from the Neuroscience Program at CEITEC MU, and colleagues from the 1st Department of Neurology, the 2nd Department of Internal Medicine, and the 1st Department of Internal Cardio-angiology of St. Anne’s University Hospital Brno and the Faculty of Medicine of Masaryk University. For the moment, he is slowly settling in the city, discovering its beauties. “Tatarák is amazing!”, he concludes.

Meet the mayor

Meet the Mayor event, 3 February 2023 (Photo by the City of Brno Municipality)

Author: Marta Vrlová, M.A., MPH, Senior PR Specialist ICRC, marta.vrlova@fnusa.cz.
Contact for media: Ing. Jiří Erlebach. Head of PR and Marketing, Spokesperson, FNUSA, +420 543 182 006. jiri.erlebach@fnusa.cz.

The ERC and grant options

The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the European funding organisation for excellent research, funding creative researchers to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept Grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between their pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation. The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council. Since 1 November 2021, Maria Leptin is the President of the ERC. The overall ERC budget from 2021 to 2027 is more than €16 billion, as part of the Horizon Europe programme, under the responsibility of the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel. For more information follow https://erc.europa.eu.

International Clinical Research Center

We are a modern center of scientific excellence based in Brno, Czech Republic, oriented on preclinical and clinical research, mainly in the fields of cardiology, neurology and oncology. We search for new diagnostic and therapeutic methods, technologies and drugs. By putting our findings into practice, we improve patient care and quality of life. In July 2022, we became a joint workplace of St. Anne’s University Hospital Brno (FNUSA) and the Faculty of Medicine of Masaryk University (LF MU) in Brno. We develop relations and cooperation with other key players, both internationally and within our region. Our activities are included in the action plan for implementation of #brno2050 strategy, thus shaping the future of #brnoregion. Visit www.fnusa-icrc.org for more details about us.

The second US patent has been awarded to a team of scientists from the International Clinical Research Center (ICRC) in Brno, the 3rd Faculty of Medicine of Charles University (3. LF UK), the Institute of Scientific Instruments of the Czech Academy of Sciences (ISI CAS) and Cardion s.r.o. They developed a new technology for the device, commonly known by the acronym ECG. The high-frequency electrocardiogram (UHF-ECG) brings more accurate diagnosis to doctors and patients. By reducing the number of inappropriate treatments, it promises cost savings throughout the healthcare system.

In order for the heart to pump blood into the body, there are regular coordinated contractions of the atria and ventricles. These contractions are triggered by electrical impulses. The ECG is one of the basic tests in cardiology. It records the electrical activity of the heart in the form of an electrocardiogram (a time recording of ECG waveforms), which allows for subsequent evaluation. A conventional ECG measures up to approximately 150 Hz. “We have started to observe higher frequencies in conventional ECG measurements, especially in the 150-1000 Hz region, and their behaviour between the different electrodes on the chest. We found that these frequencies can occur at different times in each electrode within the so-called QRS complex, which records the impulse for ventricular contraction. Depending on whether the patient has any defect in the electrical impulse in the heart chambers,” explained Pavel Leinveber, head of the ICRC Biomedical Engineering Centre.

In a healthy heart, both ventricles work simultaneously, i.e. synchronously. In a patient, for example after a massive heart attack, there may be so-called ventricular dyssynchrony, where one ventricle or part of it is activated with a delay. The heart does not pump blood efficiently, reducing its output, which causes considerable health problems for patients. Electrical conduction disturbances in the heart are treated using various pacing techniques. The choice of the appropriate technique and the correct execution of the technique are important factors for the effective function of the heart. Conversely, improperly chosen and implemented pacing can induce ventricular dyssynchrony. UHF-ECG technology offers easily accessible information on the electrical activation of the ventricles, which can be used both for the selection of the appropriate pacing technique and for immediate control of correct pacing directly at pacemaker implantation or during follow-up checks for correct pacemaker function.

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Fig. 1: Application of UHF-ECG in practice

The new method promises ease of use for physicians, as it uses conventional ECG electrodes and their standard clinical layout on the patient’s chest. The electrical action of the heart chambers is then clearly visible on so-called depolarisation maps. These are based on the high-frequency signal and illustrate in colour how the electrical excitation moves through the ventricles of the heart muscle. The technical solution is also cheap and easily accessible.

“For patients, the test is non-invasive, with results available within minutes. It provides physicians with completely unique information that could help optimize surgical procedures and pacemaker settings in clinical practice. Patients with an optimally placed and adjusted pacemaker remain physically active longer, which positively affects their health and well-being,” adds Doc. MUDr. Karol Čurila from the Cardiac Centre of the 3rd Medical Faculty of Charles University and the University Hospital Královské Vinohrady in Prague. In addition to the improvement in the health of patients, we can expect their longer working activity and other socio-economic benefits for society.

EKG2

Fig. 2: Example of depolarization map

Czech scientists have already received a second US patent for their discovery. “Thanks to this, no one can manufacture or sell the device for the duration of the patent, without our consent and a share of the profits”, explains Pavel Jurák from the ISI CAS. This patent extends and protects the methodology required to use UHF-ECG technology in practice. Other patents are also applied for within the European Union. The device is currently being used experimentally by 11 hospitals in the Czech Republic and Europe to confirm its effectiveness. These facilities include St. Anne’s University Hospital Brno and the University Hospital Královské Vinohrady in Prague. The next step is now being taken by the start-up company VDI Technologies, s.r.o., founded in 2022. Its goal is to move the device to clinical use, ensure its certification and subsequent market launch. This will allow the technology to be expanded into everyday medical practice.

More information:
www.medisig.com/vdi/
http://www.isibrno.cz/
www.lf3.cuni.cz

Media Contact:
Ing. Jiří Erlebach, Head of PR and Marketing Department, Spokesperson of FNUSA, tel.: +420 543 182 006, jiri.erlebach@fnusa.cz
Ing. Pavla Schieblová, PR Department, Institute of Public Relations of the CAS, tel.: 734 218 279, schieblova@isibrno.cz
Ing. Marta Reichlová, PR Manager, 3rd Faculty of Medicine, Tel.: +420 267 102 217, marta.reichlova@lf3.cuni.cz

The project entitled “Unveiling the molecular determinants of aging to design new therapeutics (MAGNET)” has now successfully concluded at the International Clinical Research Center (ICRC) in Brno. Its main focus was research of selected ageing-associated diseases, understanding their mechanisms and finding potential targets for their treatment. The project, which gained great support from the European funds, attracted to Brno a number of both junior and established researchers, headed by Dr. Manlio Vinciguerra.

The main research objectives of the project consisted in unveiling the role of epigenetics, mechanosensors, immune response, intracellular transport, and mitochondrial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of aging-associated diseases. The specific problems targeted by the research activities were liver diseases such as hepatocellular carcinoma, innate immunity defects, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative pathologies.

The project was awarded over 177,5 mil. CZK in 2016 by the Ministry for Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic (MŠMT). Funded through the Operational programme Research, Development and Education (in Czech OP VVV), it aimed at attracting a renowned international scientist, Dr. Manlio Vinciguerra, to establish his research group at the ICRC. At the time Dr. Vinciguerra was a Senior Scientist working at the University College London (UCL), London United Kingdom.

“The funding from the MŠMT through the OP VVV program helped us to significantly advance the understanding of aging-associated pathologies, which represent a true burden to the society” says Manlio Vinciguerra, the coordinator of the project. “It gave me the chance to join a very vibrant scientific environment at the ICRC and to establish my research group. I am extremely thankful for this opportunity” he continues.

The team employed other Principal Investigators of the ICRC, i.e. Irena Koutná, Giancarlo Forte, Gorazd Bernard Stokin, Jan Frič and Jaeyoung Shin; and attracted promising young researchers and students of more than 10 nationalities. Thanks to the available funds, we were also able to send our Ph.D. students for internships abroad.

“The international nature of the research team created thanks to the OP VVV funding was really a game changer. It created a lively and varied environment which helped the cross-contamination of scientific ideas. The result of this process has been excellent science.” comments Giancarlo Forte, who is also the Head of the Center for Translational Medicine at the ICRC, where the research was performed.

Focused on excellent and clinically meaningful research, the project led to disclose the role of histone protein macroH2A1 as a determinant of liver disease progression and of hepatocellular carcinoma aggressiveness, making it a potential target for future treatments. Moreover, the project allowed for the identification of novel predictive markers for heart failure, the proteins Yes Associate Protein (YAP) and heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein C (hnRNPC), together with providing the first multiscale map of the human failing heart. Additionally, thanks to the financial support of MAGNET project, scientists at the ICRC described how chronic inflammatory signalling affect the extracellular matrix and also the phenotype of immune cells.

“A number of young and established researchers participated in this very successful project. It was an honour for our institution to host it. The scientific objectives reached are truly remarkable” stress Prof. Irena Rektorová, the Head of ICRC.

These results were published in prestigious peer-reviewed international journals, like Hepatology, Science Translational Medicine, Nature Communications, Circulation Research, EMBO Molecular Medicine, Theranostics, iScience, GeroScience, Lancet Health Longevity, Acta Neuropathologica Communications and others. In terms of numbers, there were more than 100 publications affiliated to the project, with 50 % of them in Q1 journals. First quartile representing the best journals according to series of metrics.

“The project entailed the use of tissues and cells harvested from patients hospitalised at the premises of St. Anne’s University Hospital Brno (FNUSA), so that the results have a concrete translational potential” says Ing. Vlastimil Vajdak, director of FNUSA hospital.

MAGNET project also helped to establish the Cell and Tissue Engineering Facility (CTEF) at the ICRC, a unit endowed with ISO 9001 certification (quality management system) and GMP manufacture permit which manufactures advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) including cell therapy and tissue engineered products.

The funding also allowed establishing or consolidating prestigious international collaborations with UCL (UK), the European Institute for Systems Biology and Medicine (EISBM, France), the University of Barcelona (Spain), the University of Geneva (Switzerland), the University of Southern California (USA), the University of Porto (Portugal), the University of Perugia (Italy).

Supported by the European Regional Development Fund – Project MAGNET
(No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/15_003/0000492).

 

Heart failure is the leading cause of death worldwide. Scientists at the International Clinical Research Centre (ICRC) in Brno have identified a potential target for the treatment of heart disease that is related to the location and function of a protein called hnRNPC. They have now published their findings in the prestigious journal Science Translational Medicine, opening up the possibility of finding new treatments.

Cardiac diseases are accompanied by intense modifications of the architecture of the heart muscle tissue, a process which is defined as negative remodeling. During this process, a scar is formed within the muscle which impairs its contractile function and eventually leads to the failure of the organ in the long run.

Despite the advances in therapies and prevention, heart failure remains the leading cause of mortality worldwide. This pandemic accounts for over 1.8 million deaths every year, which means more than one in three deaths in the world are caused by heart failure.

For many years, scientists have known that the progression of heart failure is associated with the modification of the internal functioning of the cardiac cells, including those processes controlling the maturation of RNA molecules. These processes are important for the production of the structural proteins, which account for the ability of cardiac cells to produce force, contract and make the heart beat. Altered RNA metabolism in the diseased heart is considered largely responsible for the disease.

The research group led by Dr. Giancarlo Forte at the International Clinical Research Center (ICRC) of St. Anne’s University Hospital Brno and Faculty of Medicine, Masaryk University, finally identified how the formation of the scar in the heart leads to altered RNA metabolism by affecting the localization and function of a protein named hnRNPC. These results might pave the way to the design of new treatments based on the interference with the displacement of the protein.

The research, which is the subject of a publication on the leading international journal Science Translational Medicine, started in 2015 and was conducted mostly on human patient samples thanks to the decisive collaboration of the Center of Cardiovascular and Transplant Surgery (Centrum kardiovaskulární a transplantační chirurgie, CKTCH) Brno. Other collaborators of the study include researchers from Central European Institute of Technology (CEITEC) in Brno, as well as from the University of Melbourne (Australia), King’s College, Imperial College London and the University of Surrey (UK).

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Microscopic images of tissue from a healthy (left) and diseased (right) human heart. The muscle tissue is shown in red and the appearance of the scar in the diseased heart is shown in blue.

The research was generously supported by the European Regional Development Fund – Projects ENOCH (No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000868) and MAGNET (No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/15_003/0000492), European Union Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program NANOSUPREMI (No. 690901) and the Czech Science Foundation.

Reference:
Martino F, Mysore Varadajan N, Perestrelo AR, Hejret V, Durikova H, Vukic D, Horvath V, Cavalieri F, Caruso F, Albihlal WS, Gerber AP, O’Connell MA, Vanacova S, Pagliari S, Forte G.
The mechanical regulation of RNA binding protein hnRNPC in the failing heart. Sci Transl Med (2022) https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/scitranslmed.abo5715.

Nature cannot do without enzymes – proteins that speed up chemical reactions in all living organisms. For example, we owe our beer and wine to enzymes; we wouldn’t enjoy hard cheeses and, in principle, wouldn’t do laundry without them. But people also use enzymes in biomedicine, industry, and environmental protection. Unfortunately, relatively few enzymes perform optimally, so scientists have been working for decades on searching for more efficient enzymes. In doing so, they keep running into a fundamental question: Is it better to modify existing enzymes through protein engineering or to search for new ones in nature’s vast diversity?

Researchers from the Loschmidt Laboratories at RECETOX, Faculty of Science, Masaryk University and the International Clinical Research Center (ICRC), in collaboration with colleagues from ETH Zurich and the University of Greifswald, decided to go down the route of searching for new enzymes. They published the results of their six-year research project in the international prestigious journal Chem Catalysis. Their aim was to find more efficient variants of an enzyme family that can degrade halogenated hydrocarbons polluting the environment. The search began in genomic databases, which currently contain hundreds of millions of gene sequences that encode previously unknown proteins. Using the in-house web tool EnzymeMiner, they were able to select the most promising candidates from this plethora of sequences. “You could compare it to finding needles in a haystack. With EnzymeMiner we can distinguish the needle from the straw very well. However, in the next step we need to find out if the selected needles are sharp enough – this means to experimentally verify that the selected enzymes are fast enough,” said Michal Vašina, the first author of the study.

Therefore, the researchers then prepared these selected candidates in the laboratory and studied their properties using two microfluidic platforms – modern technologies that can handle miniature sample volumes and save time. The first platform, MicroPEX, was used by the researchers to systematically characterize enzymatic reaction rates, while the second platform, KinMAP, gave them insight into the actual mechanism of enzymatic reactions. “The savings in time and money are tremendous. Thanks to this method, we can measure the same amount of data in a single week that would take months to obtain with conventional technologies,” said the microfluidic expert Zbyněk Prokop.

Coming back to the question from the beginning of the article, whether it is better to discover or engineer new enzymes, this scientific study gives a clear answer. Historically, the first enzymes degrading halogenated hydrocarbons were identified more than 30 years ago, while protein engineering has been used for their modification for 25 years. During this time, the properties of twenty-five discovered and more than one hundred modified enzyme variants have been described. When comparing the data obtained, the researchers found that the newly obtained enzymes had better properties than any previously discovered or modified enzyme from the same family.

So how to get more efficient enzymes? Based on their experience, the scientists in the Loschmidt Laboratories answer: “Let’s not underestimate nature. Thanks to its diversity, it has an arsenal of effective enzymes just waiting to be discovered!”

Publication:

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.checat.2022.09.011

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The synergy of advanced bioinformatics and microfluidics helps to find efficient enzymes for recy-cling chemical synthesis intermediates, degrading environmental pollutants, or preparing active pharmaceutical ingredients.